Duchesne County Highpoint Trip Report

Kings Peak

Date: August 10, 2007
Author: Lanny Wexler

I reached the summit 2:45 pm under perfect weather conditions. This was my most challenging highpoint to date. Hard-fought yet with a big payoff. I also consider Kings Peak to be among the most beautiful highpoints I've visited; well worth the effort. The hardest part was the backpack in to Dollar Lake. I was carrying way too much weight which nearly cost me the peak as I thought I would not have the energy to continue on summit day.

There were seven in our group that had been organized by Crazy Sheryl's Hiking Group out of Salt Lake City, Utah.

Sheryl McGlochlin is a saint and a friend of highpointers. She deserves special mention; without her this would not have been achievable for me. She is willing to arrange future trips to Kings Peak probably once or twice a year during the summer hiking season (July-September) for people interested in hiking Kings Peak. I invited Sheryl to the Highpointers Convention in to be held in Flagstaff, Arizona in September 10-13, 2008 and it is possible she will attend.

I found Sheryl by contacting a REI store in Salt Lake City who referred me to her website www.crazysheryl.com. What makes Sheryl special is she states up front on her website that she loves people. She embraces the term crazy in a loving way as she is in to almost everything. She loves hiking, kayaking, cooking, dancing, theatre, public speaking. Her enthusiasm and energy is boundless. She finds a way of making the impossible out of the possible. Sheryl truly exemplifies her Mormon background of hard work, organization and generosity. No wonder why they call Utah; "the Beehive State". She and her family took me and our hiking group of seven into her home that we used as a base to get ready for Kings Peak the night before our adventure. Sheryl prepared dinner for everyone and we slept on trampolines set up in her backyard. Sheryl even let me stay at her house for two nights after my return from Kings Peak and found a personal friend to give me a tour of Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City. I even saw a live performance of the renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I saved a lot of money and made lasting friends in Utah. Over the two days I stayed with her, I was made part of her family. Coincidentally, she and her husband were leaving for Switzerland and I was returning to New York on the same day, so they drove me to the Salt Lake City International Airport. I waited for my flight that departed at 10 am while they departed Salt Lake at 7 am. Earlier in the year, I had tried repeatedly sending out messages to local hiking clubs and the Highpointers Club looking for climbing partners to hike with, with no success. A few people tentatively answered my inquiries but for whatever reason their plans fell through. Crazy Sheryl was the only group that came through for me. Only fellow Highpointers Steve and Gloria Yoakim from Sidney, MT responded finding me through www.crazysheryl.com.

The group reached Henry Forks Trailhead at 12 pm on Thursday August 9, after departing Salt Lake City about 9 am and driving east for three hours on I-80 and local roads through the bleak sagebrush desert. We stopped to pickup lunches at a Subway in Evanston, WY which we would eat when we arrived at the Henry Forks Trailhead. We were delayed by road construction approaching Lonetree, WY. This construction and washboard roads may have delayed us close to an hour; therefore, I strongly recommend the signed and good dirt roads on the western approach on CR410 through Mountainview, Wyoming. We started hiking Forest Trail 117 from the forested Henry Forks Campground about 1 pm. I was lugging in well over 40 lb. I had too much warm clothing and too much food, plus a large daypack hanging off my backpack. I guess the only way to learn to pack is through the "college of hard knocks". I brought too much as I carried a winter weight fleece jacket thinking temperatures would be freezing at Dollar Lake. I think it only got down to the low to mid 40s and a polypro and light fleece shirt with my zero degree bag turned out to be sufficient. We reached the beautiful Dollar Lake campsite at elevation 10,750 feet shortly after 6 pm.

The trail in was fairly easy, just a long and gradual rise of 1300 feet from 9,400 feet elevation at Henry Forks to 10,780 feet at Dollar Lake. It is basically a horse-packing trail. Earlier in the year, I checked one of the outfitters and he quoted me a hefty sum of $600 per day for his services, no thanks!

The trail goes through ponderosa and lodgepole pine with an occasional steep pitch and a couple of stream crossings on good bridges. The sun was hot and I took frequent breaks as I groaned under the weight of the pack. Approaching Dollar Lake, one emerges into beautiful alpine meadows and the triangular rock shape of Kings Peak can be made out some distance in front of you. Dollar Lake is in slight depression in this alpine cirque. I passed a herd of grazing sheep in the meadow, stopping for photos, just short of Dollar Lake.

The group I hiked with was independent of each other because we did not know each other our varying hiking abilities too well. People hiked with those that were close to their ability and tended to break off into subgroups. Still, it was good to know there was a larger group who knew you were out there and you could come back and share your experiences at the end of the day and help each other out if we got into a bind. The fastest in the group was a Laotian man named San in his 40s and Chinese girl Yeung in her 30s, and a young guy named Jason in his early 30s who worked for an Air Force defense contractor. A young autistic man named David in his early 30s hiked close to my pace as well as a middle aged couple from Sidney, Montana; Steve and Gloria Yoakim who were new to backpacking and highpointing. It should be noted Steve and Gloria are up and coming highpointers. They reached 38 highpoints in just the past year and Steve is looking to go for all 50!

On climb day, Friday, August 10th, it dawned clear and cool. A sprawling high ridge pressure system settled over the High Uintas virtually assuring that there would be no midday pop-up thunderstorms. After telling everyone that we should be up at 4 am and be on the trail at 5 am, I was so tired from the prior day’s seven mile backpack into Dollar Lake that I did not start to stir until 6:30 am. I went down to filter water at Dollar Lake and was greeted by the sight of four moose, including one bull moose, that were placidly feeding by the water's edge that calm morning. By the time I ate breakfast was packed and ready to go, it was 7:45 am! Really, really bad.

It must have taken me the better part of two hours to hike the 2.5 miles and 1,000 feet of elevation gain up to Gunsight Pass which was at an elevation of 11,880 feet. I was going pretty slow as hikers passed me. I was tired and daunted by the prospect of a 13 mile round trip to Kings Peak and back to Dollar Lake. Before I even reached the final switchbacks leading up to Gunsight Pass, I was resigning myself to calling it in and stopping at the top of Gunsight Pass before returning to camp. I was physically and psychologically drained. I had lost the will to go on.

Yet the call of #40 kept nagging me as I debated in my mind what to do at the crest of Gunsight Pass. My head said turn around and my heart said go forth. As I sat in the warm sun and rested, taking in the magnificent views of red sandstone cliffs, alpine lakes, green meadows and an azure blue sky, I saw groups of people climbing up Gunsight Pass and coming to join me at my resting stop. Some were young, strong guys in their late teens and 20s. They stopped briefly at Gunsight to decide on their route.

David, who had been with me decided to go on via the longer Painter Basin route after meeting me at Gunsight and me telling him I was returning to camp. The choice was to descend 600 feet on a defined trail and loop through Painter Basin, then reclimb the elevation the 600 feet elevation they lost, plus an additional 900 feet to Anderson Pass for a total of 1500 feet of elevation gain which would bring them to Anderson Pass at the base of the final 800 foot ascent to Kings Peak. Also, if they took this same route on the return, they would need to climb 600 feet back to Gunsight Pass after their ascent of Kings Peak. They could take the mile and a half shortcut via no official trail, just following a semi- unofficially poorly marked trail with occasional rock cairns following the best route across grassy meadows and boulders that in a mile and a half led around the side of a mountain and would gradually gain 900 feet in elevation over a mile and a half.

As I sat there and watched each group deliberate their choice, most opted for the short unmarked route. They left Gunsight Pass, made their way across the alpine meadow, and then switchbacked steeply up among some boulders before disappearing behind a ridge. I sat there feeling depressed, watching each group disappear among the boulders as they made their way towards Kings Peak. I saw more groups. Troops of boy scouts, families with children in tow; possibly as young as 8 years old. They also stopped at Gunsight; I explained to them that I was a Highpointer but had decided to stop short of my 40th highpoint as I did not have the energy to continue. They all wished me well and they too continued on taking the shortcut. Some of the little kids were tired and apprehensive but there parents and troop leaders encouraged them on. Some of the troop leaders had been up here before and apparently knew the best route to take.

I sat there until an hour had gone by. During the hour, I was resting and eating I gained some energy back. More kids came by. More talk about which way to go. I could see these people were mortal. They were uncertain and had doubts like me but ultimately they decided they were going to do Kings Peak. At about 10:30 am I got up and was just going to starting heading down to camp when; when my heart and my adventurous spirit took hold and told me just start walking and follow the others. If these little kids can do it; so can I!

So, I took my first tentative steps across the alpine meadow and, before you know it, I was climbing and keeping up and even passing others. I had my doubts but I pressed forward. The time passed quickly and in just a short while I too climbed the boulder switchbacks; stopping occasionally to rest but keeping pace with others. As I walked and climbed and saw I can do this, my spirits soared.

It became apparent before too long that the shortcut was the best way to go. The shortcut was not all boulders; like some others had told me. There were stretches of grass that were boulder free! To me, it seemed like this area I was walking through struck a striking resemblance to the Alpine Garden and Monticello Lawn area on Mount Washington. I felt at home! I felt like I was back East! I did deviate onto a few boulder fields in some stretches but I was quickly back on course. I did not feel alone even though I was by myself as I saw dozens of children and adults making there away along on there way to Anderson Pass. Kings Peak loomed ahead; really close now. It was now that I knew I would make it to the top. Somehow.

I knew now that I had saved a total of 1200 feet of elevation gain with this shortcut. I knew that I would not have to do the dreaded 600 feet reclimb out of Painter Basin to Gunsight Pass. I knew I had reduced the total mileage of the hike from 13 miles to 7 miles. A 4,000-foot climb from Dollar Lake, suddenly became a 2700 foot climb. I was the "Comeback Kid" and I began singing tunes from Rocky in my head thinking about Rocky getting off the mat just when he was being counted out! I was Rocky, the underdog that some had doubted my ability to make this peak. I was defying the experts, I was walking on Cloud #9 by the time I reached Anderson Pass at 12,690 feet.

I stopped for lunch which consisted of a bagel with peanut butter and an energy bar and then readied myself for the final ascent. This was going to be a rough one. I still had a mile long 844 foot climb over boulders up the ridge leading to the summit of Kings Peak. Victory was not quite in my grasp yet! I handled this challenge by resolving myself to do it. Short of a turn in the weather, I was heading for the summit, no matter how long it took. It was shortly after 12 pm when I stopped for lunch; so even if it took me three hours to reach the top, this was reasonable.

Before I left Anderson Pass, I saw David who was surprised to see me, after he had left me over an hour earlier back at Gunsight Pass. I began climbing higher and higher, taking breaks as needed. I did not look up. I just focused on the next rock, the next boulder, the next ledge. I passed people who I had seen earlier and they alternately passed me as we leapfrogged each other as we took breaks. I caught up with Steve and Gloria Yoakim of my group from Montana and they were glad to see me. I passed some people coming down who were very surprised to see that I had not quit and they cheered me on as I got closer and closer to the summit.

It was a demanding climb but I drew my strength on some earlier climbs I had done in the Catskills and Adirondacks. It would be just a matter of time before Kings Peak was mine -- and so it was! At 2:45 pm on August 10, 2007 I claimed #40 and stood on top of Kings Peak, Utah, at elevation 13,534 feet with a maze of peaks and alpine valleys below my feet as I stood by the "Stars and Stripes" in the high summit winds and posed for photos, hoping I would not be blown off the mountain.

The adventure was not over yet. You can't claim your prize until you’re safely down. Unfortunately, my downward descent was a real downer. As long as I had been with other people I had been okay. Since Steve, Gloria and David were among the last groups of the day to leave the summit, we no longer had the benefit of following others.

I got separated from my group as I stayed a few minutes longer to take some more photos. I managed for about 10 to 15 minutes to keep sight of a girl in a red jacket descending over the boulders towards Anderson Pass but after awhile lost sight of her. It seems that I may have made the mistake of dropping too low off the ridge perhaps only a 10 to 15 degree deviation. That was enough to get me into a serious bind; before I knew it I was in the amidst a boulder field hundreds of feet above Anderson Pass. One misstep could result in a serious sprain or a broken ankle and I would be helpless hundreds of feet up on the slope of a God-forsaken mountain.

Steve and Gloria had told me they would wait for me at the bottom of Anderson Pass. I looked down below helplessly and saw no one but fields of boulders I had to cross. It was about 3:30 pm and it would take me an hour and a half to reach Anderson Pass hundreds of feet beneath me. I often sat on my butt as I crawled my way down the sharp rocks. I was tired from the climbing and my energy reserves were fading. The two liters of water I carried were nearly gone and I rationed what I drank. I did have a water filter but the nearest stream available was a small stream down in Anderson Pass. If I did not make it down to Anderson Pass due to an injury, I was facing the prospect of dying from exposure as cold winds sweep through the pass and it is not certain I could survive the night of if climbers would pick me out among the thousands of boulders. Celebration had quickly turned to nightmare as the mountain pulled a cruel trick on me!

I moved very carefully and inched my weigh down occasionally finding a few stretches of dirt herd paths among the boulders from others who had preceded me. I finally saw people below me who appeared to be looking up at me but after sometime they moved on. I knew I had to get down and move in as quick and as safe a manner as possible. Finally, as 5 pm approached and I was getting close to the bottom, I saw a small group of people perhaps 200 feet below me. I clapped my ski poles and yelled out for help. To my surprise, they called my name. I said yes, this was Lanny and they stood and waited perhaps twenty minutes as I made my final descent towards them.

It was Steve, Gloria and David. They asked me if I was injured as I wobbled towards them. I explained to them I was weak and dehydrated. Steve gave me some water from a stream and poured it into my water bottle. I drank and drank. Then I took out a liquid GU which I had never used before but felt was now warranted to give me a jump start to get me going.

I told them that I felt I would not have the energy to climb the 600 feet back up from Painter Basin and urged them to take the shortcut route I took in the morning even though they had not used it. Fortunately, two guys came by and pointed the way to the shortcut. Still, I had to climb 200 feet and deal with more boulders; it was tough but, over time and a few near-slips as I was tired, I made it over to Gunsight Pass and then the long, 2.5-mile slog back to Dollar Lake. I made it back to camp at about 7:30 pm, nearly exhausted. After a meal of beef stew and energy snacks and a night's sleep I was better the next morning.

I broke camp at about 9 am and was out to the Henry Forks Campground at about 2 pm. I survived! We survived! WE all had DONE IT! We all felt proud of our accomplishment and celebrated our accomplishment with three large pizzas for the seven of us at the Pizza Hut in Mountain View, Wyoming.

Oh, but were we sore!